As President Obama indulges in irrelevant, politics-driven trivia–free community college! higher inheritance taxes!–serious events are taking place half way around the world. The government of Yemen, a significant ally in the war against Islamic extremism, teeters on the brink of collapse. The immediate threat comes from the Iran-supported, Shia Houthi group. But al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is waiting in the wings. Tonight, the news appears grim:
Fighters from the Houthi group battled guards at the Yemeni president’s private home and entered the presidential palace on Tuesday, witnesses said, as a second day of violence in Sanaa raised fears the country was descending into chaos. …
The United States remains “firmly committed” to supporting [President Abd-Rabbu Mansour] Hadi and his government and is calling for an “immediate cessation of hostilities,” a State Department official said.
Of course, no one is paying any attention to that.
Other U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were not sure of Hadi’s status or whether he was in either of the buildings under Houthi assault.
They said their latest information from Sanaa indicated Houthi rebels were surrounding Hadi’s private residence and were in control, or close to taking control, of his official residence.
The emergence of the Houthis as Yemen’s top power in September has scrambled alliances and stoked tensions across Yemen’s political spectrum, raising fears of deeper instability in a country that has one of al Qaeda’s most active branches.
The U.S. officials said Iran was backing the Houthi rebellion with financial and political support. Some officials said shipments of weapons from Iran to the Yemeni Houthis had been tracked by foreign governments.
Washington has been concerned about the turmoil in part because it relies on the Yemeni government for help in counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the Jan. 7 attacks in Paris.
Perhaps Yemen’s (relatively) pro-Western government will be able to survive. But it appears that Yemen could become another battleground between al Qaeda, representing Sunni Muslims, and Iran and its proxies, representing Shia Muslims. If that is the case, there is no good outcome.